Aug 22, 2012 - By Walter CookMargi and I had definitely broken passenger protocol.
When you're 30,000 feet in the air, death is generally something you don't talk about, as your captive audience may consist of squeamish, superstitious people and first-time fliers.
But our discussion wasn't glib or sensationalistic. It didn't involve twisted metal falling from the sky or anything like that. Rather, the cost of health care, terminal illness and the peace that can be found in death in certain circumstances dominated the conversation. It was
likely because of this --and as well as the presence of ear-buds --that we elicited no negative responses from our fellow passengers.
To anyone who was actually listening, it might have seemed as though Margi and I were old friends. We weren't. We had met for the first time at the gate at Los Angeles International Airport just before our flight to Denver. It was there that I learned she was a New Zealand academic, organic farmer, rancher, and nurse who's been at the bedside of many people in their dying moments.
At the time, I was reading a book on death by the late writer Studs Terkel titled "Will the Circle be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith." The book features approximately 60 views on death from various people who've seen it first-hand or been
affected by it --including firemen, police officers, priests, cancer survivors, writers, veterans, gang members, AIDS caseworkers, and others. It's a pretty heavy read.
It was due to my interest with death as a result of the book and Margi's firsthand experience that we clicked at the gate. It turned out that we had been assigned seats next to each other, so, naturally, our discussion continued in the air. Margi's traveling companion, Janet, a nurse who conducts home visits for seriously ill patients,
was seated nearby. Perhaps struck by jet lag --understandably, as it takes 12 hours to get from New Zealand to Los Angeles --she refrained from the discussion.
Margi and Janet were on their way to a nursing conference in Denver, while I was ultimately headed to Wyoming to visit family.
The late Swiss psychology pioneer Carl Jung used the term "synchronicity" to describe the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful way.
In Jung's own words: "Synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers."
LAX is the third-busiest airport in the United States. In 2011, 61.9 million passengers flew either into or out of LAX. That's an average of about 170,000 passengers per day. So out of all those people, somehow, Margi and I --two intellectually curious people with similar psychic states at that moment in space and time --ended up seated next to each other.
"Synchronicity" seemed to describe what Margi and I were experiencing.
Still, the rationalist inside me --the guy who usually is in charge and hates the idea of fate because he likes to think he's in control of his life --scoffed and thought: "You have to be seated next to someone. Why not Margi?"
Throughout most of human history, death has not been hidden. The norm has been multiple generations living under one roof, which generally meant someone --usually an older family member --was nearing death.
It's only in recent history --due to our busy work schedules and the ubiquity of long-term-care nursing facilities --that we have become far removed from the process of dying.
Margi noted that due to ongoing budget crises at all levels of government worldwide and falling household wealth, the traditional ways of living and dealing with death could make a comeback, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if it brings families together in a positive manner.
Death is a part of life, Margi said, and, as such, it shouldn't be marginalized as a part of the human experience.
My view on life and death seems to be shaped, as of late, by my budding career as a business writer in Los Angeles. I imagine my time on this Earth like this: I've inherited a profitable company. Perhaps I'll be an innovator, and the company and its employees will be far better off after my tenure. Or maybe I'll simply continue the status quo by selling decent products and treating my employees fairly.
The one thing I don't want to do is load the company with debt, ship jobs overseas where people work cheap, and pollute the environment. It took awhile for the company to be built from the ground up and it has enough resources and quality people that, if managed well, it could be around for generations to come. What gives me the right --as a spoiled brat who merely inherited a company --to ruin that?
The appearance of Denver International Airport, a sprawling place so isolated from its namesake that it seems as though it's in a western Kansas wheat field, marked the end of my and Margi's discussion. DIA's rural location belies the fact that it's the fifth-busiest airport in the United States. In 2011, it served 53 million passengers --an average of 145,000 passengers per day.
Unfortunately, I was forced to exit the plane rather quickly, as I was late for my connecting flight. In my haste, I forgot my book and was unable to give Margi a proper goodbye.
I was sure I wouldn't see Margi again, but I held out hope as I waited for my connecting flight that I would see the book again, as it was imprinted with the name and address of its owner: The Los Angeles Public Library. Margi seemed like a kind woman who might take the time
to help an absentminded guy out. We had a connection after all.
A week later, I found myself again in DIA, waiting in line to board my flight back to LA. I was wishing I had something to read.
That's when I looked behind me --and saw Margi and Janet waiting in line for the same flight.
I walked over and we exchanged greetings. We were both taken aback. The mathematical likelihood was so stacked against our meeting a second time like this that it seemed more probable that the Roman gods had orchestrated our meeting or that either she or I was a stalker or a rogue CIA agent. That's especially true considering I don't fly much --two or three times a year, tops.
Margi --to my elation --pulled my long-lost library book out of her shopping bag while we waited in line. We both chatted about how strange our second meeting was. I broke the monotonous topic by jokingly asking what seat she was in. Certainly she wouldn't be seated next to me.
She was --in the middle seat, flanked by Janet in the aisle seat and I in the window seat. Just like before.
And I'm still trying to figure out why.
Editor's note: Fremont County native and former Ranger reporter Walter Cook is a business writer in Los Angeles.
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